• Japan In Focus

Tokyo: Leather accessories reflect the changing times

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fukuromono Museum curator Kazue Kido, left, and her daughter Maki at the facility in Sumida Ward, Tokyo.

By Madoka Ishibashi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

One of the country’s largest pigskin producers is right here in the capital — in Sumida Ward.

And smack-dab in the middle of the ward’s Ryogoku district — where the rich history and tradition of the industry are on display — leather goods manufacturer and seller Azumaya opened the Fukuromono Museum in 2004.

The museum defines “fukuromono” as a general term for anything used to carry items that resemble a bag.

Its 30-square-meter space showcases tobacco holders, belt bags and wallets, among items that were used from the Edo period (1603-1867) to the Taisho era (1912-1926).

Items on exhibit include those made by Azumaya as well as donations from the East Japan Handbag Manufacturers Association. And including production tools, such as manual sewing machines, there are about 100 items on display.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An old manual sewing machine on display

What stands out is a colorful accessory case sitting in the center of the exhibition area. It displays an item called hakoseko, a handbag that women of samurai families used when going out.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A hakoseko purse

It features a plum tree in full bloom that is embroidered with gold thread on a pale blue-green velvet cloth. I am impressed by the beauty of the colors, the elaborate work and the item’s well-preserved condition.

“It had to have been carefully preserved, and with future generations in mind,” said Maki Kido, 48, Azumaya’s sixth-generation owner.

The facility’s cigar cases, which in the past had been exported to the United States, are almost completely out of circulation and are now more so a novelty item.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cigar holders

Said Maki’s mother and museum curator Kazue Kido: “There is no chance to see them in use now because accessories evolve with the times.”

This can also be said about items familiar today. Looking at wallets, for example, we see that smaller ones are popular these days as society trends toward being cashless.

“Long wallets used to be our mainstay product, but no longer sell well,” Maki lamented.

Instead, she revived small gamaguchi coin pouches that were popular in the past, thinking they would suit the times.

Things that were once valuable become buried under the ups and downs that are part of the times and culture. And that makes me wonder how accessories will evolve moving forward.

“We will find the best form that is needed at the time,” Maki said.

Accessories continue to vary in shape and form to remain handy in society. The museum was a great opportunity to remind me of that.

Fukuromono Museum

The facility was renovated and reopened in July 2021. Everyone who wrote their names on the visitor’s list will be given a bookmark fashioned of the edge of a leather piece in the color of their choice. The museum is a seven-minute walk from JR Ryogoku Station.

Address: 1-1-7 Ryogoku, Sumida Ward, Tokyo

Hours: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays

Admission: Free